Love and/or Sex: The easiest stuff in the (virtual) world to find 

It's a matter of buyer beware when it comes to finding love on the Internet

Without romance, we wouldn't find love. Without love, we'd be sad. Without sex, however, we would first be sad and then extinct. Sometimes sex leads to love, and sometimes love leads to sex--but of the two, sex is the most natural. Dogs try to do it with furniture and any part of any species within humping distance. Even plants engage in forms of sexual activity, though they don't end up with that dumb look on their faces that we do.

Uninterrupted love is rare, but the ubiquity of sexual desire never takes a break. From advertising to zoo keeping, it's everywhere. The planets are about the only bodies in the universe that aren't trying to bump into and onto each other.

Potential lovers these days are trying to point and click their way toward happiness. The vast quantity and varied quality of Internet dating sites has reached a staggering level. Like gambling, sometimes it works. Most of the time, it just foments excitement followed by queasiness and regret--kind of like eating a Boston cream pie or a box of those chalky little hearts with lame messages on them in one sitting. Despite the exponentially expanding population of profiles inhabiting the Web, people don't want to admit that they use them. They use fake names like "Cheekychick88." They disguise their images, sometimes blurring their eyes when they should blur lower. Myriad methods of meeting are out there, but regardless, watching happy couples flaunt their lust on Valentine's Day probably doesn't soothe the sting of solitude. Online dating, it's important to note, isn't just for lonely people--sometimes it's for those who think the orgy isn't big enough.

If you're alone, this time of year presents a dismal and stubborn reminder­--with the mandatory romance and forced bliss of Feb. 14--that you may never find love. You'll remain confined to your couch with nobody to talk to and nobody to share that stupid-looking orgasm face with.

It's time to look away from the hand-holders and neck-nibblers, to forget about fondling your fickle Facebook "friend," to renounce restaurant reservations, to kick the crap out of cuddly-cute commercials and instead play solitaire with one hand stuffed in a tube of cookie dough.

But remember--all hope hasn't been vanquished. This is 2011. You live in The Future. People used to have to find love and/or sex with "suitors" and "gentleman callers" who were close enough to hear them from across the fence. They would receive handwritten letters featuring words like "courtship." Then, once they found someone with a sturdy back for plowing and milking, they'd hurry and get pregnant, pumping out as many heirs as possible to help on the farm. They had to act fast before they turned 39 and died of tuberculosis.

Technological advances have rendered the world a dwarf of its former self. Interested in meeting someone from Uganda for a moonlit affair? Looking for someone who gets aroused by incorporating jumping jacks and Silly String into sensuality? How about some good old-fashioned group sex? Are you into gay voodoo polygamy? Married women whose husbands don't know they harbor secret wrestling fetishes? Perhaps you want to settle down with a "normal" man or woman--maybe both. Or are you merely looking for a transsexual that knits gargoyle-themed oven mitts? It doesn't matter anymore, because you can find whatever you want on the Internet--assuming you don't mind finding somebody who wants to be found on the Internet.

You'll have to get accustomed to some things, though. Online dating services often prevent casual browsing without receipt of your e-mail address, biography, fingerprints and a DNA sample. Also, whenever the euphemism "a few extra pounds" is used, accompanying pictures are conspicuously absent. Dating-site diction is oddly regressive on the explicit sites. People always seem to be looking for others to "play with." They say things like "hubby OK if I play without him." It initially feels like Romper Room porn. Then you see the tattoos of spider webs covering up wrinkles and realize everyone's of legal age.

Among the countless sites featuring people in the aforementioned description, innocence rears its occasional head, and you realize that the Internet is capable of nourishing genuine connections for life. At least it looks that way from the eHarmony commercials. It's probably closer to the type of connection-for-life that develops in other artificial environs--American Idol, for example. Whatever happened to that big, fat guy with the smooth voice? Nobody knows, and that's because the public's relationship with him was more analogous to casual sex than idolatry or love.

The good thing about the vastness of online dating sites is that anyone, no matter how unappealing, can now get laid without paying for it. Take a look--most of them already have profiles and pictures uploaded. There's somebody out there for everyone. Unfortunately, nobody has an excuse for a sexless life anymore--not even married people.

Ashleymadison.com is known as a site for people trying to cheat on their spouses--it was recently rejected as a Super Bowl advertiser--but while it features some of that, it's actually for anybody trying to have sex in all of the endless combinations imaginable. It's certainly not entirely adulterous. You'll find consensual straight couples looking for consensual gay couples, consensual gay couples looking for other consensual gay couples, threesomes looking for fivesomes.

The pictures, if you're allowed access to someone's "private showcase," are often as graphic as anything in the most inglorious porn available. As is frequently the case on these sites, the attractive members tend toward tastefully enticing photographs while the monstrously unattractive people, for some unaccountable reason, display limitless confidence.

That probably shouldn't be surprising, as it tends to mirror real life. Gorgeous professors usually keep their skirts on in public, but it wouldn't be shocking to see a tooth-damaged, mouth-breathing drunkard pull down his pants and scream, "Check it out!"

A Twin Falls couple had an interesting Ashley-inspired experience recently. They--like most people with a profile available to 6 billion people--insisted on anonymity. According to the woman, 39, she and her boyfriend, 40, met a supposedly 37-year-old woman at a bar for a potential threesome.

"We barely recognized her from the picture. She looked about 20 years older than she said. But that wasn't the worst thing. I talked to her for about five minutes before I found out she was a 'professional,'" the woman said. "I just looked at my boyfriend while she was talking and mouthed 'hooker.'"

It's easy to imagine the rendezvous having gone worse, though. They could have met the guy on lesbianpersonals.com--yes, guy--who makes ice-piss sculptures. At least hookers offer something somebody somewhere wants.

"It's probably something you should mention before meeting people," she added. "I mean, it's not like we were planning on saying, 'How much do we owe you?'"

While browsing profiles, you begin to realize that we're just like other animals--except we're not scared of vacuums, and we have clumsier mating calls.

Both men and women adopt stunningly stupid pseudonyms on dating sites. They don't care if you see them abusing a turkey baster, but they insist that you call them--as a brief look at Ashleymadison ads from Idaho reveals--secret names such as "Ilikemilfs," "Crazyhotbiznatch," "Licklay69," "Swirleelvr," "Boob5" and "Brittany Paige." All right, maybe that last one strays from the theme a bit, but for the most part, it's stuff like "Lickerandsucker4u."

Imagine how a real-world introduction would go if this sort of thing worked:

"Hi, I haven't introduced myself. I'm Niplover1973."

"Good to meet you, Niplover. My name's Squirtypants47."

And for some reason, when dealing with sexual matters, nobody bothers to proofread their work.

A couple from Meridian has adopted the name "Candycookiesandcum." They describe themselves as "married and we want sexy girl." Not that there's anything wrong with that, but leaving out the article "a" before "sexy" makes them sound like cave people. ("Me want hump thing.") By the way, that's the extent of their profile--no pictures, no attempt to provide insight, just a couple who want sexy girl.

Maybe they need to try bicupid.com. A girl from Blackfoot seems willing and even more careless with standard English, though far more expressive. First of all, her verbatim "tagline" is: "ArE YOUr PArENtS rEtArDeD? CUz DANg YOu SPeCiAl."

That can be forgiven as stylistic illiteracy, but she continues:

"Let's see, I am eihteen years young, basketbell && softball would be my favy sports, yellow && purple are my colors, the L.A. lakers would have to be my favorite team in all the NBA:] I live in a shity ass town known as "Blackfoot" the town where everybody knows everybody ... I have never got along with my parents because of my sexual orientation, YES i am Bi-Sexual && ii LOVE iiT =] ... all i ask of anyone is trust and honosty and its like everything evolves around nothing but sex these days. When i am twenty-one i am moving back to my home town with my oldest brother and hope to pusuite my dancing and ho pe to finish my last two semesters of school, && to all you bitches who THOUGHT you knew me ..... FUCKK OFF!!!!! =]"

Cory McCune, a 42-year-old Arizona resident and Idaho native, said he found love on the Internet with a 28-year-old female--and then got divorced eight months later.

"It was pretty stupid. I actually asked her to marry me before we even met," he said. "And actually, it wasn't really her fault. We loved each other, but I didn't know about all of her financial issues and stuff like that ... She had an ex who threatened my son, so that's probably what ended it more than the other stuff."

The specificity of dating sites is proliferating so quickly that it's probably possible to find people who are into just about anything.

There's a site devoted to "gay spanking." There's seniorpeoplemeet.com and blackpeoplemeet.com. Those two are advertised on mainstream TV, but as media outlets become more fractured, it's only a matter of time before commercials for middleagedmongolianmidgetsmeet.com start popping up on the Paul Reubens Network.

Witches and warlocks need love, too, and you can meet them at witchvox.com. They're not all hiding in covens and casting spells with bat wings. One guy announces, "I'm an Airman in the United States Military. And I'm a Witch. I'll say it a million times and nothing makes me more proud!" He's stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base and goes by the name "Full Metal Pegasus." Go get him, ladies.

Most people identify themselves as atheists or agnostics on these sites, but if you love Jesus as much as you love indiscriminate sex, you may want to visit libchrist.com, which purports to debunk myths of prescribed monogamy in the Bible.

They advance a pretty good argument against the notion of biblical restrictions on sex outside of marriage. The argument: "Take out your Bible and show us where!"

As mentioned earlier, if you're looking for love electronically, writing skills shouldn't be important to you. But if you like marginally erudite types and prefer to find out what they look like naked after meeting them, okcupid.com elicits sufficiently comprehensive information from a person to form a reasonable opinion. The site was recently purchased for $50 million by the irritatingly named Interactivecorp, which also owns match.com and chemistry.com. Members, for the most part, are better educated and less likely to write in text-speak than their slovenly counterparts on more explicit sites.

But even there, a few sub-literates slip through the cracks. For instance, a Nampa woman--who is either 26 or 19, depending on which part of her profile you believe--writes, "I'm pritty, somewhat smart, and bi poller." In the things-she-couldn't-do-without section, she lists "my waight (cuz im thin)." You better contact her soon, though, because she's preparing to move to Oregon with her "feonce."

(It's easy, after reading too many profiles like the example above, to forget all about romantic matters and just spend your time bemoaning the incompetence of public-school teachers. The counter-intuitive antidote to such a loss of focus is to read more of them--because, as soon as you stumble across someone misspelling "I," it becomes fun again.)

Robert McCarl, a sociology professor at Boise State, discussed the attendant ineloquence and deception of online dating.

"The first thing that comes to mind is Marshall McLuhan's adage that the medium is the message," he said. "The medium of the Internet forces us to communicate in certain ways--it's like the Great Salt Lake, miles long but inches deep ... You can find a counterpart, probably pictures and videos and everything, but because it's digital, it's cold. It lacks the heat of face-to-face communication or even handwritten letters."

While digital dating can bring people closer theoretically and sometimes physically, it may not work so well substantively.

"The reach is tremendous, but the level of understanding can be easily distorted ... a 60-year-old sex freak can try to sound like a 16-year-old girl," McCarl said. "It gives us information but not necessarily insight."

Incidentally, most online dating sites are free to join--they will ask you to upgrade in order to avoid the inevitable Ron Jeremy-sponsored ads--but you may lose more than money when you realize what your neighbors are doing behind the curtains.

Polygamy seems to be popular these days, but many of the men wanting to break into the polygamy scene don't even have one wife yet--way to set your goals high, fellas.

Most of the polygamy sites, however, tend to focus on helping females find big love. The forum comments are disproportionately written by women, or at least people who say they're women. On 4thefamily.us, an alleged woman writes, "I would welcome sister wives since we would all keep each other company in the afterlife." It sounds suspiciously like an argument a man would propose to a lonely fundamentalist, but you never know.

One way to assemble multiple women without all of the legal hassle of anti-polygamy laws is to patronize realdoll.com. According to the site: "Since 1996, we have been using Hollywood special effects technology to produce the most realistic love doll in the world. Our dolls feature completely articulated skeletons which allow for anatomically correct positioning, an exclusive blend of the best silicone rubbers for an ultra flesh-like feel, and each doll is custom made to your specifications. We offer an extensive list of options, including 10 female body types and 16 interchangeable female faces."

It's a good way to practice safe sex. As the site notes, each doll "receives a thorough acetone bath after fabrication." None of the dating sites provide that kind of assurance.

They're kind of expensive--about $6,000--but for another $100, you can get one with extra pubic hair. Among the frequently asked questions, the most revealing is: "How much weight can the doll support?" The answer is 400 pounds. Instead of pubic hair, perhaps they should consider providing a doll that comes equipped with a blood-pressure monitor.

Some of the sites even offer masturbation instruction. First of all, who needs instructions for something so self-explanatory? Furthermore, it seems to suggest a lack of confidence in the process. It's kind of like a car dealership offering classes on how to walk.

If masturbation instruction and cost-prohibitive rubber mannequins derail your confidence in the Internet's capacity to sate lust with at least one other human being, the old-fashioned avenues still exist.

Bars are fun, but Jagermeister can impede judgment even more than online witch sex.

Apparently, couples have met at the gym, but who looks their best while waiting to weigh themselves and ringing out a sweat towel? People often get together at work, but then everybody at your job hates you and suspects some sort of conspiratorial collusion.

You can always go to church, but ultimately, which is worse--fighting off a few pop-up ads for penis pumps or getting trapped in a corner with your dentist asking if you're ready to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?

Real love, like real musical talent, develops after a long succession of years punctuated by grief and regret. Those ridiculously myopic moments of proclaiming love immediate and forever are, despite the surface allure, fleeting and usually doomed--just like that morbidly corpulent American Idol guy's career.

Valentine's Day is equally fake and encourages similarly impetuous proclamations of devotion. Could anything be worse, aside from realizing the toilet is about to overflow or that your cat is about to barf, than discovering too late that the love of your life is horribly boring in bed? But even if you break up and love dies, sex remains--sometimes with the same person. It's eternal and deserves to be honored with its own holiday.

Instead, we're stuck with Valentine's Day and its creepy mascot, Cupid. He hasn't achieved the popular prevalence and societal significance of Santa Claus--perhaps because he's a psychotic, naked, flying baby who shoots people with arrows and expects adoration instead of stitches, welts and condemnation.

What an asshole.

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